By Louise Caccamise
Photographs by Bob Dunham
Continuing our series, “The Land Around Us,” we will visit an area to our north this month: DeLeon Springs and Lake Woodruff. According to anthropologists, the land has a long history going back to when the Timucuan Indians lived along the St. Johns River in a large settlement at what is now DeLeon Springs. They left shell mounds behind from snails, which were a major food supply. Later, early settlers used these shells for some of the first roads.
The Sugar Mill restaurant
In the 1760s and ’70s, English naturalists John and William Bartram traveled the St. Johns River. Their written descriptions paint a vivid picture of the area at that time. Some fifty years later when the United States acquired Florida from Spain, the territory was opened to settlers. In 1823, Major Joseph Woodruff purchased 2,020 acres of land, then known as Spring Garden, surrounding what is now DeLeon Springs. He had part of the land cleared for a plantation. His wife Jane Harris Woodruff told in her journal of the many hardships encountered while living at “Spring Garden Plantation” where they grew cotton, corn, rice and sugar cane. In 1828, after a trip to Charleston, Major Woodruff died and the family ceased to live in Florida. The plantation was burned to the ground during the Second Seminole War. It was rebuilt and destroyed again during the Civil War. Today Spring Garden Road winds its way through the present-day area, a reminder of past times.
The Mill Wheel
The name DeLeon Springs was first used in the late 1880s when, with the coming of the railroad, the area became a winter resort. The spring was proclaimed a “Fountain of Youth” with the water maintaining a constant temperature of 76 degrees. In the 1920s, a hotel named the Ponce DeLeon Springs Inn was built. For 30 years the inn and surrounding grounds and swimming pool were a tourist attraction. Not standing the test of time, the inn was demolished in the 1950s.
Mill wheel in the background
The land remained in private ownership until 1982 when DeLeon Springs became a state park. In the early 1900s, a sugar mill powered by the flow of spring water was rebuilt and a wheel was attached. After a major renovation in 1999, some parts still date to the earlier time.
The Glenwood Post Office
Now the mill is featured in DeLeon Springs State Park as the Sugar Mill Restaurant where you can make your own pancakes at your table. Freshly baked bread and cookies are available for purchase, as are books and other items in the gift shop.
The Eco/History Boat
Eco/History Boat Tours are available at the park. Offered four times a day, they are fifty minutes long. Beginning in the park, the boat travels through the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge where birds and other wildlife may be viewed. In addition, swimming and hiking trails of varying lengths are also available.
The Fountain of Youth Site
The journey to the park from Orange City can be traveled on Route 17, or one can go on nearby Grand Avenue through the peaceful community of Glenwood and then into DeLeon Springs. This small unincorporated neighborhood was started in the late 1800s as an orange-growing area and as a lumber industry center. Both have now vanished, but the quiet community remains. The Spring to Spring Trail passes through with the trail head on Grand Avenue. The drive through Glenwood takes one away from the rush of modern life and is worth the trip in its own right.
‘Til we meet again, Happy Trails!